Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Jesus gave his disciples many warnings about a life on mission with Him and for the kingdom. He tells them, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15, NKJV). I do not believe this verse only applies to “spiritual leaders” in a church or religious organization, I believe it applies to everyone claiming to be a “Christian”.

As a pastor / preacher / teacher of God’s Word, I have said many times (as most preachers have) that just because you get dressed up on Sunday morning, that does not make you a Christian. Satan will come to church, and he will show up with many disguises. When the Apostle Paul called the elders from Ephesus to come to Miletus to give them guidance and say his farewells; he said, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock (Ac 20:28–29). Pay attention to those last four words, “not sparing the flock.”

While sheep will bite, butt heads, and irritate each other every now and then, it is extremely rare for them to bring intense harm to the flock. Most of the time after sheep “bicker” they move past it and mend together with the other sheep. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will do the same, but only long enough to appear as genuine sheep. Read those warnings again and pay attention to the adjectives describing the wolves (ravenous and savages). Wolves will even fall under the authoritative hand of the shepherd, but this too will only last for a short period. Wolves have no problem with attacking and attempting to kill a shepherd.

So, how do we get better at recognizing these pretenders? I believe the answer is found in Jesus’s letter to the church at Ephesus given to John in the book of Revelation. Jesus commends them when He says, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary (Re 2:2–3). It is evident to me here that the elders adhered to the instructions from Paul and tested those who came into the church desiring to be a part of the church. This is where we fail too often in our churches. We get enamored with numbers (though we will never say that out loud). We forget to test those who want to become a part of a precious flock, we stop asking about doctrinal (biblical) beliefs. We want them in the choir, teaching a class, leading a ministry; all for the sake of our “numbers” not looking bad. We must also get better recognizing that wolves will begin to “isolate” some sheep before they attack. They want the sheep to trust them, be their friend, and rely on them for as much as possible.

We should not get upset if someone asks us our beliefs on biblical issues, the sheep in that church are only following the guidance given to them by God. Jesus reminds the apostles (and us), “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16). Wolves will come, but we can, and should, recognize them.

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Come and See

Having spent the past fifteen years as the Senior Pastor of this church, I have learned a great deal about people that become members of the church. In this timeframe I have run the gauntlet of emotions and I am positive I have put members through the same gauntlet of emotions in their lives. One thing I can tell you up front…I am by no means a perfect man, nor am I a perfect pastor, I will (and do) make mistakes. I love being a pastor and I love the people God brings in my path to minister to.

What can you expect if you visit us for a worship service? Just about anything, and I say that in a good way. We are a group of imperfect people, meeting and worshipping the perfect God. We worship God in a reverent and humble fashion, but we also have fun, not silliness, in our worship. I desire for people to smile (even laugh) when God moves. You can expect to hear the truth from the Word of God (the Bible) and I will not water it down. This means you have the possibility of being convicted, angry, sad, hurt, helped, healed, glad, and cut by this Word. Every time we gather my prayer is always for God to meet all of us at our deepest need and He will if we are willing to be open, honest, and give Him full access to our heart.

In my time here, I have laughed with just as many as I have wept with. I have buried many people ranging from church members, family or friends of church members, to people I had never met before. I have seen babies born, children grow up into adulthood and start their own family, and families join and leave the church. As mentioned earlier, I have run the emotional gauntlet (and still do) in my calling as a pastor.

So, come and join us. Laugh and cry with us. Let God speak to you as you worship with us and as you get to know the wonderful people that worship here each week. I am not perfect, but I will love you right where you are at this stage of your life. I want you to meet Jesus and fall in love with Him…He is the life changer you need.

Great Things in 2018

As we begin this year, I want to emphasis the great need for commitment to the call God has placed on your life. I also want to encourage you to remain faithfully committed to God and your church. Reflecting on my sermon from Sunday, January 7th, let us not forget of God’s great commitment to all of us long before we were ever born. You cannot get past “In the beginning God”, without realizing the commitment God made to you before he began His creative work.
In His omniscient sovereignty, God saw, is seeing, and has seen into the future, everything that His creation could do with His gift of love, mercy, and grace. In all of that, He still created everything and said, “Let there be light”. In those words, we see that God is fully committed to His work and His plan. How committed are you to God’s work that you committed too?
I am glad God is always faithful, even when I am not. I am glad God still desires me to work with Him in the work He has ongoing at this moment. I am glad God has a desire for everyone to come to repentance and receive the free gift of salvation. The time is now for all of us to do our part for the good of the kingdom and the glory of God.
Learn from Nehemiah on how to hear from God, how to accomplish God’s work, and how to handle distractions that come from others not pleased with your commitment to God. Nehemiah was straight to the point when others tried to come in and halt God’s work. He did not avoid the confrontation, while at the same time, he did not let is hinder God’ call on his life. He handled lies and slander with dignity and grace, leaving us with a fine example of dealing with the same issue.
One thing I did not cover in my sermon…the work of rebuilding the wall only took fifty-two days. The reason, the body worked together, and nobody was trying to out do someone else and they were not looking for self-gratification or cooperate recognition. Everyone had their task, and they did their task.
For us to experience “Great Things in 2018”, we need to learn from Nehemiah and those rebuilding Jerusalem. Listen to God, follow Him daily, and do the task He has assigned to us until the task is completed. Along the way, stay committed and when distractions come, remember, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Th 5:24, NKJV). God is fully committed to His work, let’s be fully committed to Him.

Be Linus

Charlie Brown asked a simple question “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” Linus then steps on the scene and provides the answer to the meaning of Christmas. Linus quotes Luke 2:1 – 20. Linus seems to always be level headed (except when it comes to the Great Pumpkin), we need more young people like him in the world.

Linus has it right, Christmas is a time to remember the wonderful gift God sent to us. God in the flesh, Emmanuel (God with us). Christmas is not a time to catch up or out do “the Jones”, but a time of good tidings of great joy (Joy to the world the Lord is come). A time of peace on earth and good will to men. A time for kindness and not rudeness, a time for togetherness and not strife, and a time for LOVE and not hate. A time when families should sit and reflect on how blessed we truly are to have one another for one more Christmas. What I would give to have one more Christmas with my mom and other family and friends who have passed away.

What have you done with the gift God sent? Only you can answer that question, because that is a personal question. May God Bless you all in the coming year and may this be the year for you and I to serve God with a refresh fire within us and spread the same message Linus did when Charlie Brown asked a very import question. If you know what Christmas is all about, then step to center stage and be a Linus…

Homecoming 2017

 

As I come to the end of my 14th year as pastor of this wonderful church. Sometimes I sit and cannot believe it has already been 14 years. I have seen a lot during this time in my life. Babies growing in to teenagers, teenagers into young adults (some married with their own babies now), young adults move into their midlives (some becoming grandparents, me included), and I have stood over caskets of those who have died. I have learned a lot from that first service I preached in September of 2003 and I continue to learn.
I thank the good Lord for all that He has done, is doing, and will continue to do until He calls His church home. One thing I want to reiterate to the church is, God is not done with us and He has a work for us to join Him in doing. No matter what stage of life you are in, God has something for you to still be doing in His fields where people need to hear the gospel. Atlantic Beach has well over 15,000 residents and if statistics are correct, 85 % of them are not affiliated with any church. That equates to 12,750 unchurch people in our city. Let that sink in for just a moment.
Church we must get outside of the walls of our building and meet our neighbors. I have said this may times and it still rings true today, “Just because the church is here, does not mean that people will flock in, they are wanting us to invite them.” I pray we will take our mission about the Great Commission very seriously. There is an old hymnal that says:
When in the better land, before the bar we stand
How deeply grieved our souls will be
If any lost one there, should cry in deep despair
You never mentioned him to me

O let us spread the word, where-eer it may be heard
Help groping souls the light to see
That yonder none may say, you showed me not the way
You never mentioned him to me

A few sweet words may guide, a lost one to his side
Or turn sad eyes on Calvary
So work as days go by, that yonder none may cry
You never mentioned him to me

Chorus
You never mentioned him to me
You helped me the light to see
You met me day by day and knew I was a-stray
You never mentioned him to me”

May this not be said of us, let us work for the night is coming, when our work will be done. But until then, let us be in the field and tell everyone the great news of Jesus Christ

All In

“I am all in.”  You have probably heard that before at some point in your life.  I write this today to tell you all that I am 100 % all in when it comes to my walk with God, my life on mission for Jesus, and as the shepherd of the flock God has given me at First Baptist Church  Atlantic Beach.

In September of 2003, this church looked to me to lead them into the future for the good of the kingdom of God.  I was 39 years old at the time, very little seminary training, no pastoral experience, but I had been mentored by a great man of God.  But there were things against me that only time would overcome.  My son would graduate high school in 2004 and my daughter would graduate in 2007.  That would put me at 43 years old and I would notch 4 years of pastoral experience in my belt.  Seeing how the average tenure of a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention was 3.5 years, I could feel the “un-asked” question of “will he leave us after his daughter graduates” in the air.  Honestly, I figured they would simply tolerate me until 2007 and then kindly ask me to move on as they searched for a new man to lead them for the future.

A lot has happened in 14 years.  People joined, people left, people came back after leaving, some have never stepped back inside the doors.  People loved on me, people yelled at me and cursed me.  I have been praised and pummeled, lifted up and also let down.  But, looking back, I know I am not the “lone stranger” in any of this.  Sit with any pastor and you will hear this story.  Read the Bible and it plays out before you from Genesis to Revelation (especially in the life of Jesus).  I have seen the lean years of financial burdens on the church and I have seen God open the windows of Heaven and pour out a blessing that we had no room to receive it.  I have watched people grow in their faith and seen people turn away from God all together.  I have even struggled with my own faith, battled through illnesses in my life and the death of my mother.  Through all of that I am here to tell you, I Am All In.  God is so good!

I love this church and the people in it, and we have a wide variety of people here that worship together.  I love what God is doing in my life and my desire is to share that with you all in order to encourage you each and every day.  I love that God is not done with First Baptist Church  Atlantic Beach, as a matter of fact, I believe He is about to do something extremely big and God sized that all we can do is walk by faith right alongside Him.  My desire is to see each member, every guest, go away from our services knowing that the Holy Spirit was upon them and speaking into their life.  My desire is for leaders to be raised up to carry the torch long after I am gone with the same fire for reaching the lost with the good news that I have.  My desire is to see every ministry team flourish as they go forward in faith, knowing that God is their right hand (Psalm 138:7).

Will I always be here at First Baptist Atlantic Beach?  Only God knows that answer.  My pledge to all of you is simple, while I am your pastor, you will always get my best and I will always be leading you forward as we journey together through the valleys and on the mountain tops.  I will challenge you to live the life that is pleasing to God so that one day we will rejoice together in Heaven after hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  God Bless You All, and I hope you will join me on this All In Journey.

My Fasting Journey

Forty (40) days ago (April 11, 2017), I began a journey that I intended to last only twenty-one (21) days.  I had promised God I would fast and pray during the twenty-one days leading up to the beginning of our scheduled revival services.  Up to this point in my Christian life the longest I had ever gone was eight (8) days in fasting and prayer.  This was going to be interesting if I was to make it thirteen (13) days longer.

It really got put into high gear on Monday, April 10th, at our small group meeting for weight loss support.  The man leading the discussion said something very simple, but extremely profound and it was something I had never done.  He asked, “How often do we pray about our appetite?”  My answer was that I had never prayed about my appetite, as a matter of fact, I only ask God to bless whatever it is I eat, but never to give me wisdom and discernment over the desire to eat.  I went away from our meeting and repented with a renewal in my heart for what God alone could do.  Let me add right here that I did not go into this fast for weight loss, I went into this fast for revival (and some other issues I needed guidance from Him about).  Whenever you fast, there will be some weight loss that happens as a side effect.

Having repented, I awoke early Tuesday morning and the first thing I heard from God was “What are you hungry for?”  I begin to read His Word again with a renewed passion and spent time meditating over verses that became magnified on the pages.  I opened my prayer notebook and prayed over everything in there.  Before I knew it, hours had passed and I was full to the brim.  Of course, this was just day one and meal one, but I could feel God was beginning to already enforce “He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Dt 8:3) and “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:33).  Over the next eight days (my previous longest fasting period), there was very little, if any, hunger pains causing me to want to end the fast before the twenty-one days were up.  They were only reminders to pray or read more and God was doing some wonderful things around me and my church.

I was thinking more clearly, my physical strength grew stronger, I was not stressed about my final semester in college as I prepared to graduate.  I was seeing answers to prayers, I saw God work miracles in my church family and bring people to the altar after I preached.  I stood amazed in His presence and I was overwhelmed with emotion.  Before I knew it, May 1 arrived and it was time to begin revival (this was the day I thought my fast would end).  That first night I felt the Spirit of God like never before.  I could barely move or speak when our guest preacher was done.  I don’t believe I even slept that evening when I got home, all I could do was worship.  God told me that He was not done speaking or showing things to me yet and to keep going in my fast until forty (40) days where ended.

So here I am today (May 20, 2017), and my forty days are ending.  God has been so good to me.  He has fed me with food I never thought possible.  He has renewed my strength; He has lifted me up with wings like eagles, He has caused me to run and not be weary, and walk and not faint (Is 40:31).  My love for Jesus is renewed and refreshed.  My love for my beautiful wife is also renewed and refreshed (I have fallen more in love with her during this period, more in love than when we first met).  I cannot wait to share with the leadership and members of the church all that God revealed to me during these past forty days.  The future is going to be wonderful!  I can honestly say that I have never felt better in my entire life, and all the glory goes to God alone, through the atoning work of His Son and My Savior, Jesus!  God is good…All the time.  If you are not fasting, let me encourage you to do so…it can be done, I am living proof.